Was Planned Parenthood’s Komen Backlash ‘Disgusting’?

The backlash against the backlash is baffling.

I’ve followed the recent brouhaha over the Komen Foundation’s decision to defund–and then de-defund (maybe)–Planned Parenthood out of the corner of my eye, mostly on account of I really don’t gave a damn. But NRO’s Daniel Foster drew my interest with his assertion that, “You Should Find the Anti-Komen Backlash Disgusting, Even If You’re Pro-Choice.” Given that I’m anti-abortion, find Planned Parenthood rather disgusting on its own merits, and had no problem with the backlash, I read on.

He cites Will Wilkinson”s observation, “I’ll be damned if this doesn’t look a bit like PP throwing its weight around, knocking a few pieces of china off the shelves, sending a message to its other donors: “Nice foundation you got there. Wouldn’t want anything to, you know, happen to it.” Wilkonson doesn’t actually offer any explanation for this, but Foster concurs wholeheartedly:

Look, the beauty of free speech is that, if you’re inclined to do so, you can write a check to PP in an act of solidarity, or write a check to Komen as an expression of moral approval. That’s all fine. But there’s something quite a bit different, something creepy and not a little despicable, about the Planned Parenthood set’s besmirching Komen’s good name across a thousand platforms for having the audacity to stop giving them free money.

[…]

Imagine I volunteered to run a cub scout troop, and for years, when the annual soapbox derby came near, I knew I could count on Joe’s Deli as good for a hundred dollar donation. If one year Old Man Joe decided he didn’t want to donate any more — because he didn’t like the design of our racer, or because he thought his hundred bucks was better spent on a little league team, or because he disapproved of the scouts’ stance on gays — what on earth would justify me going on public access TV to grill Old Man Joe on why he hates kids? What would justify me hacking the Joe’s Deli web site or maliciously editing Old Man Joe’s Wikipedia page? What would justify me goading a handful of my city councilman into standing up at the next town meeting and publicly calling on Old Man Joe to reinstate his donation?

Nothing. Nothing would justify that. Nothing at all.

This  is incredibly tortured logic.

First, the actions in question were taken by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, some geek presumably unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood, some other people presumably unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood,  and some local city councilman, respectively, and not Planned Parenthood.

Second, your local Cub Scout troop is not a multi-billion dollar international advocacy group that runs a ridiculously annoying annual campaign with the National Football League and gets massive taxpayer subsidies and Joe’s Deli is not the national lightning rod for the most controversial public policy issue of the last four decades.

Third, the beauty of free speech is that you get to say whatever you want and other people are free to say whatever they want in response. As Scott Lemieux notes, “Komen’s right to ‘dispose of its money as it sees fit’ (which absolutely nobody denies) does not entail a right to be exempt from criticism — let alone a right to a permanent level of donations.”

Fourth, as Simon Maloy and others have pointed out, it’s not as if the pro-life forces haven’t applied pressure in the other direction. Kathryn Jean Lopez celebrated their victory when Komen pulled its funding, observing, “This Komen-Planned Parenthood relationship has long been a target of pro-life activists and, media bias aside, this appears to be a remarkable turning point.”  Yet these same people are baffled that there was a counter-reaction.

It’s not just Foster. WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin:

It’s remarkable, when you think about it: One private foundation decides not to give money to a charity but instead to pursue its core mission through other entities. And for this, a storm of vitriol descends on the foundation from elected officials and elite opinion-makers. If it were any other issue (e.g., pet rescue, education, save the whales), it would be unthinkable for members of Congress to weigh in. I mean a private charity kind of gets to decide where to spend its money, while its donors can continue to give or not as they see fit, right? Ah, but when the topic is abortion, all rules go out the window.

But, again, Komen isn’t a private charity; it’s a very prominent advocacy group that enjoys millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies each year. And Planned Parenthood is likewise a recipient of taxpayer dollars and political maneuvering.

Rubin continues:

Planned Parenthood can raise its own money (which it did in spades in the wake of the flap). Those who want to give to a breast cancer charity can donate with the peace of mind that their money will be used to fight breast cancer. (Donors did so generously as a result of the controversy.) Now Planned Parenthood’s bosses have every right under current law to do what they do and raise money to fund their organization. But shame on them for intimidating other groups that might contemplate the same move as the Susan G. Komen Foundation made.

I’m sympathetic to part of the argument here. While I find the ubiquity of the Komen campaign annoying and counterproductive, I did operate under the assumption that they were at least using their proceeds to find a cure for breast cancer. I mean, it’s right there in the name. Given that Planned Parenthood isn’t in that business (although they do perform breast cancer screenings), it seems like an odd use of resources.

Still, the notion that speaking up for Planned Parenthood and decrying Komen for switching sides in a politically charged fight is somehow “intimidation” is absurd.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    Given that Planned Parenthood isn’t in that business (although they do perform breast cancer screenings),

    Rather a lot of them actually Jim. I entirely agree with your general proposition that the whining on the right after they obviously put pressure on Komen to cut off funding to PP with a ludicrously transparent maneuver is a bit silly. And I think Komen’s promise to restore funding is real and permanent. Given the damage done to them by this contretemps, imagine the effect if they appeared to renege on the committment to resume the relationship with PP. They’re in enough trouble already, I don’t think they will be in any hurry to repeat the experience. As a sidebar to this it’s also a considerable warning to the GOP. They’ve been trying to screw with PP for years in a rather off the radar manner, but imagine the reaction if they were successful in removing government funding. They’re already in trouble with women as a group. Does it really make sense to add another to the list of their rather public enemies?

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Brummagem Joe: The politics on this likely aren’t smart, although I do think it’s mostly a function of people reacting more strongly to losses than possible gains.

    Given that Komen advertises itself as one seeking to find a cure breast cancer, funding mammogram screenings (and, through fungibility, everything else PP does) seems a diversion.

  3. rodney dill says:

    Still, the notion that speaking up for Planned Parenthood and decrying Komen for switching sides in a politically charged fight is somehow “intimidation” is absurd.

    …and why isn’t claiming that PP was using intimidation also just free speech.

    you have criticizers of Komen’s move, and people criticizing PP for criticizing Komen’s change, and you criticizing the later.

    It’s all just free speech. (until someone gets the lawyers involved)

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Planned Parenthood is a major component of breast cancer health in this country. This was a purely political move by Komen and in the process they did great and lasting damage to a brand that was absolutely pristine to that point. Komen pulled out a gun, aimed it squarely at their own big toe, and shot themselves in the foot.

  5. de stijl says:

    What Komen did was mind-bogglingly stupid.

    After this imbroglio, the Right hates them, the Left hates them, and they have so insinuated themselves into the culture with the pink ribbons that anyone across the political spectrum will now look at that symbol differently, and much more negatively than before.

    Folks who are almost completely unengaged politically now have an opinion about Komen and it is not a positive one.

    You could not design a better way to destroy a brand and an image than what Komen did in the last three days.

    If the population is basically split evenly between pro-choice and pro-life, and hold those values very dear and near to their hearts so much so that it influences their votes and buying behavior, and you manage to alienate all of them in three days is just astounding.

    This is not a Tylenol or BP type of PR disaster – no unforeseen event thrust them into the spotlight. They chose this.

    They declared allegiance to one side in the most divisive issue in a culture war, and then wanted backsies when they got push back. What did they think would happen? Breasts are bi-partisan; uteri are not – how could you not know that?

    Plus, we all now know that Komen is relatively inefficient at their charitable mission and we know the salary of their CEO. If you are a charity and people are talking about about either of these items, you are incredibly effed PR-wise.

    It’s not a self-inflicted wound. It’s seppuku.

    Frigging astounding.

  6. James says:

    As far as I can tell, a lot of Komen supporters disagreed with Komen’s nakedly transparent rationale to cancel current Planned Parenthood grants on account of their status of “under investigation”. That’s it.

    Everything from Foster, Wilkinson, Rubin, et. al. is just shoehorning facts to fit their opinions.

  7. jd says:

    It was the reaction that the Komen folk saw on their own Facebook page that changed their minds. This tells me that conservatives are, for the most part, old fuddy-duddies who don’t use the Internet.

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    @James Joyner:

    The politics on this likely aren’t smart, although I do think it’s mostly a function of people reacting more strongly to losses than possible gains.

    I’m not sure what gains you’re referring to, but as to the process this is always how it works. Most people aren’t engaged until they perceive a visible loss then they rise up in their righteous wrath. And the righteous wrath of American women is not a pretty sight.

  9. DRS says:

    Komen raises a lot of its money through its annual marathons held in major cities and towns across America. In order for a marathon – any marathon – to be successful, you need to have thousands of volunteers on the ground, tens of thousands of runners/walkers and people who pledge to them, and a number of accommodating municipal authorites for permits and such who are willing to take the heat from citizens whose lives will be disrupted by road closures on a fixed date every year. It takes a lot of people to pull off a successful events-driven fundraising effort like this, and the best way to make sure these people keep coming back year after year is to foster a strong personal connection between them and the charity/cause (Komen/breast cancer eradication).

    Which is kind of a long intro to saying that there were many, many, many women who perform these annual tasks who are pro-choice and cheesed off, who are pro-life-but-not-fanatical-about-it and cheesed off, and all of whom are now willing to walk away from helping Komen ever again. Are all those pro-lifers going to come in and take up the slack? I highly doubt it.

    On a side note: is there a bigger group of whiners around than pro-lifers?

  10. Jay Dubbs says:

    SGK had spent a lot of time and effort and money to focus on a specific issue that can unify people regardless of political opinion. The shock expressed by most people came from the realization that this organization decided, apparently by their own volition, to wade into the ultimate political thicket. Since most people don’t particularly want to get involved in the abortion war (regardless of which side they may support) it was an unexpected betrayal. (Plus, the real core of the SGK movement is 30-50 year old women. This is not a group that is particularly opposed to Planned Parenthood.)

    The fact that partisans on the right celebrated the initial decision, but decried the reversal is just the mirror image of what happened to those on the left. Complaining about tactics is frequently the last resort of the loser. (See John Kerry in 2004.)

    But another, under the surface factor, for the right’s concerns is that there was significant public rallying to Planned Parenthood. The right, in general, and the anti-abortion movement, specifically, has spent a great deal of time demonizing Planned Parenthood. Even the failure to cut off federal funding last year could be looked at as a success because of how the debate was framed. But this kerfuffle has shown that despite this campaign that Planned Parenthood still has significant support. If those on the right had thought earlier this week that Planned Parenthood had the same public standing as ACORN after the campaign to demonize them worked, then the results of this week’s events must be demoralizing.

    Even more, the events of this week demonstrates once again that, except for those hard core supporters/opponents, abortion politics is something most people wants no part of.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I did operate under the assumption that they were at least using their proceeds to find a cure for breast cancer. I mean, it’s right there in the name. Given that Planned Parenthood isn’t in that business (although they do perform breast cancer screenings), it seems like an odd use of resources.

    (my em)

    James, Planned Parenthood is in the women’s healthcare business, part of which is screenings for breast cancer, uterine cancer, cervical cancer, etc, giving contraception and providing abortions for those in need. The majority of their clients are poor and uninsured women. Abortions are just one part of what they do. And because a certain percentage of the US population thinks that is murder, that is all people see when they think of PP.

    @de stijl:

    It’s not a self-inflicted wound. It’s seppuku.

    Word. (my latest nominee for comment of the year)

  12. de stijl says:

    @DRS:

    Are all those pro-lifers going to come in and take up the slack? I highly doubt it.

    At this point, pro-lifers are as pissed, if not more so, than the pro-choicers.

    Komen and the Race For The Cure is probably permanently effed – absent the best PR spin in the history of spin.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: It’s not even seppuku, which is a deliberate and planned act surrounded with ritual. This is running with a knife in the kitchen, tripping over your own feet, and stabbing yourself in the stomach.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    My Grandmother Flossie (her real name) developed breast cancer and kept it from everyone until it was impossible for her to hide it. She died in great pain with my mother at her side.

    My mother helped the family out in 1960 by working for the census. She met the underclass and still remembers the family that couldn’t afford a playpen for their new baby — so kept him in the box that the TV came in. She has been a Planned Parenthood enthusiast ever sense (and she’s doing wonderfully at 87, thank you for asking.)

    My daughter needed an ultrasound once when she had no insurance and very little income. Planned Parenthood provided it.

    Mr Brinker and Ms Handel can (and probably will) go straight to hell.

    My personal opinion.

  15. steve says:

    Meh. This is like most complaints about PC. Someone says or does something stupid/offensive. If someone objects, it is called PC. Komen had the right to spend its money how it wanted. People had the right to criticize them. We can criticize those people, and so on. Non-story.

    Steve

  16. Fiona says:

    Komen was already having some PR problems (for instance, the huge amount of money they spend on legal services each year to ensure other organizations don’t use the words “for the cure” in their events). This latest move, made (apparently) at the behest of a vehemently anti-abortion vice-president of the organization, turned out to be a full-fledged, if seemingly predictable, PR disaster that’s likely to inflict longterm injury on the organization. Not only the initial act of defund PP, but also the lame reasons given for the move, alienated a big part of their core constituency. A lot of middle-class women have probably used PP for medical services at some point or another (as college students or young working women) because they provided access to reasonably priced medical care–nevermind abortion, which is only a small fraction of what PP does. For Komen to give into the right’s attack on PP was likely seen by many as a betrayal of the organization’s overall support for women’s health issues.

    To see right wingers now whine about Komen’s reversal and the sheer amount of support shown for PP is gratifying in a way. They now it’s going to be an uphill and likely losing battle if they go after PP’s federal funding again.

  17. de stijl says:

    @JohnMcC:

    No snark. Genuine curiosity. Not dissing your mee-maw.

    Is Flossie her given name or a family nickname? How did folks outside the family react when they heard her name? How did she react to their reaction? God bless her if she was a largish gal, cuz that would be difficult given her name.

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @grumpy realist:

    heh. Yes, a more accurate description. Or maybe, playing with matches in a room full of gas?

  19. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I’m actually making a more narrow point. Koman has in recent years branded themselves–going so far as to change their name–as an organization looking for a cure for breast cancer. Preventative screening saves the lives of people in the early stages of the disease, but it doesn’t lead to a cure.

  20. Tano says:

    @James Joyner:

    Given that Komen advertises itself as one seeking to find a cure breast cancer, funding mammogram screenings… seems a diversion

    Huh?

    Preventative screening saves the lives of people in the early stages of the disease, but it doesn’t lead to a cure.

    Huh?

    Detecting the cancer at an early stage, dealing with it, and thus saving the life of the woman by making her cancer-free, is not a cure?

    Have you decided in your own mind that they should only be focused on a meta-cure – some global prevention of breast cells from ever transforming into cancer cells – and everything else they do, such as helping to cure individual women, is somehow illegitimate?
    .

  21. James Joyner says:

    @Tano: To me, “finding a cure for cancer” means funding research that leads to the eradication of the disease, not treating those who have it.

  22. Brummagem Joe says:

    @James Joyner:

    means funding research that leads to the eradication of the disease, not treating those who have it.

    Except that the actual treatment of cancers is a fundamental part of the process of finding cures for them. You’re dancing on a pinhead here Jim. Nor do I think you perhaps grasp the extent to which PP is a player in women’s health programs in inner cities and among low income families and single women.

  23. Chefmarty says:

    @James Joyner: As one who’s experienced cancer, got early treatment and am now cancer free, I’d have to disagree. My oncologist used the word “cured’

  24. Jib says:

    @de stijl: And guess who had a very personal hand in all this? Ari Fleischer, former W press secretary. He interviewed the candidates for the position of “Senior Vice President for Communications and External Relations” and specifically asked them about Planned Parenthood. This whole thing was setup and planed. That it blew up in their face which……well he is a Bushies so surprise, surprise, he is completely incompetent but we already knew that.

    In the long run, this is a good thing. Koman had become too big, too full of fat salaries, too much money spent on themselves . Now, having politicized breast cancer (another awesome job Ari !!!) and pissed off both the right and left, Koman will be a much smaller group. The money they collected will be still be collected but by new organizations.

    And this is yet another reminder to everyone. If you value your organization, then stay far, far way from any former Bushies. Those people can f*$! up a very popular breast cancer charity, imagine what they will do to your biz.

  25. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Jib:

    Those people can f*$! up a very popular breast cancer charity, imagine what they will do to your biz.

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad…..Phillip Larkin

  26. Tano says:

    @James Joyner:

    …research that leads to the eradication of the disease, not treating those who have it.

    How do you eradicate a disease without treating those who have it?

    Are you talking about somehow preventing the disease? That is not what the word “cure” refers to…

  27. anjin-san says:

    If Nancy Brinker resigns in the next few days, Komen might be able to pull out of this debacle. PP has been there for a lot of people over the years – how Komen could have dismissed their deep well of support going in is beyond me.

    Planned Parenthood also offers men’s health services. Back when I was tending bar in nigh clubs, I went through a decade of massive promiscuity. At the time, I had no health insurance. PP provided access to affordable STD testing, so instead of crossing my fingers and hoping everything was all right, I could always find out where I stood. The only drawback was you had to put up with a lot of security because they were worried about nutjobs trying to kill them. PP can count on my support.

  28. anjin-san says:

    To me, “finding a cure for cancer” means funding research that leads to the eradication of the disease, not treating those who have it.

    As someone who’s mother has been battling breast cancer for several years, I could care less about semantics. We need screening, we need treatment, and we need research.

  29. steve says:

    “To me, “finding a cure for cancer” means funding research that leads to the eradication of the disease, not treating those who have it.”

    I think it means both. That is how those of us in the trade tend to think of it.

    Steve

  30. Ron Beasley says:

    Komen was spending no money on research looking for the cause and in fact was actively marketing cosmetics with known carcinogens. Such research would have been unhealthy for their corporate sponsors.

  31. Tillman says:

    @Tano: @James Joyner: See, this is why schools need to teach their students how to write a mission statement.

  32. David M says:

    Yes, the are “Komen for the Cure”, but they are a pretty large organization now. As they actually spend much more on education and screening than research, so it’s not surprising that PP was eligible for grants. As I understood it, the entire backlash was due to the fact it was a completely political decision, and was a continuation of the rights “defund planned parenthood” goal. I don’t think anyone thinks PP should get the funding in perpetuity, but excluding them from the grant process for political reasons should be protested.

  33. michael reynolds says:

    My Planned Parenthood story. Many, many yeas ago, there with my now-wife to get birth control. A not-terribly-bright young couple is there as well. The girl goes in, comes back out to the boyfriend and announces that she has to get a procedure which she mumbles a bit. To which boyfriend says, “You have to get a Pabst beer?” Girl shrugs, not quite sure.

    The couple batted that back and forth for a couple of minutes before we took pity and explained that the girl would almost certainly be getting a Pap smear.

  34. Brummagem Joe says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Deep Pabst?

  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds: Heh

    @James Joyner: Don’t worry James, I am not going to pile on.

  36. michael reynolds says:

    Deep Pabst Chopra?

  37. de stijl says:

    I know a few hipster folks who’d totally cream if they could get the first twelver of Pabst Blue Chopra in their fridge.

  38. Nikki says:

    @James Joyner:

    To me, “finding a cure for cancer” means funding research that leads to the eradication of the disease, not treating those who have it.

    I agree. Then why has Komen also ended funding for embryonic stem cell research, the most promising for finding a cure for the disease?

  39. Brummagem Joe says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You got me there Mikey. Deep Pabst Chopra? An allusion to obscure for me I’m afraid…it must be new age or something.

  40. LauraNo says:

    What the complainers anti-abortion rightwingers) about complainers (called pro-choice here) miss is that the pro-choice complainers were complaining about how THEIR money was being spent. It was not some private charity’s money to spend in any rightwing cause it felt like. It was OUR donations, our time, our support. And we get to complain as much as we want, even were it not our money. The way they will know this is to count the number of missing donors and volunteers in the days and months to come. I can say that Komen will not get an ounce of support from me, again, regardless of any backtracking they pretend to (or even actually) do now. I don’t donate to rightwing causes.

  41. michael reynolds says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Deepak Chopra.

    Yes, stretching. Stretching quite far actually. The kind of desperate lunge for humor that causes my wife to look at me with the expression that says, “Why am I with you, exactly?”

  42. MarkedMan says:

    I made the mistake of clicking on Megan McArdle’s comments about this. True to form she was supremely confident she had a killer snarky answer but in reality she hadnt given it a moment’s thought beyond the snark. Her snark: What a bunch of ungrateful whiners, complaining about someone cutting off free money. They should be grateful for what they got in the past and keep their mouths shut.

    Here’s an analogy: Friendly’s gives a free ice cream sundae to registered customers on their birthday. Case 1) Megan McArdle wakes up one day to read that Friendly’s has decided to end that promotion. Case 2) Megan McArdle wakes up one day to read that Friendly’s has decided that because McCardle has questionable ethics they are cutting off her and her alone. She really doesn’t see the distinction?

  43. de stijl says:

    @MarkedMan:

    When talking about McMegan, never – and I mean never, not even if you’re a New Orleans Saucier – get off the boat. Just trust the Shorter and move on with the rest of your life.

  44. MarkedMan says:

    @de stijl: What does that mean?

  45. Brummagem Joe says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Sixpak Chopra?…. Okay I shouldn’t be with you either.

  46. Dustin says:

    What’s continually overlooked in this discussion is how anti-abortion groups actively boycotted Komen for 6 years because they gave grants to Planned Parenthood. Now suddenly those same people are screaming foul on on pro-choice people for pushing back on an obvious political move.

  47. Raoul says:

    Maybe JJ should work for Koman’s pr department /snark